MusicWatch Weekly: Streams & tributaries

Electronica, Celtica, Symphonica, Jazz, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Last week, when we started talking about “living traditions,” we found that problematizing “world music” opened up the possibility that all genres are a form of tradition–a vast world of traditions within traditions, interacting with each other, ever-evolving, world without end, amen. We’ll be getting into all that in due course. For now, dear reader, we have more homework for you: another week’s worth of concerts, all geared toward your tradition-loving enjoyment and edification.

We’ll start with Japanese composer Takako Minekawa, who doesn’t make “world music.”

Minekawa is performing twice in Portland this week. She works in what we might call the Krautrock tradition: she’s spent the last thirty-odd years crafting vintage synth-laden pop music inspired by the legendary ‘70s Japanese electronic band Yellow Magic Orchestra and the Robots of Düsseldorf Themselves. Minekawa performs a solo set Thursday (tonight!) at tone poem in Southeast Portland, so grab your bus pass and get moving. The next evening, she’s at the charming Leaven Community Center on Northeast Killingsworth for a quadraphonic concert presented in conjunction with Portland Community College’s Music & Sonic Arts Program.

Let’s circle back to “quadraphonic.” Music audio systems generally come in three varieties: the old-fashioned mono (one speaker channel), reigning champion stereo (left and right), and newishfangled quadraphonic (four channels). It’s one of those things you just have to experience live, and this concert gives you a chance to hear four masters at work on a “multi channel quad performance.” Minekawa joins Francisco Botello, Visible Cloaks, and Carl Stone (a student of Morton Subotnick, which is all you need to know).


In 1827, Franz Schubert turned 24 poems by Wilhelm Muller into one of the most anguished, heart wrenching expressions  of lost love and despair ever set to music. The Winter’s Journey makes Leonard Cohen or Rodgers & Hart or Hank Williams or Robert Johnson sound like Abba.

But if Schubert’s Winterreise is one of the pinnacles of classical music, why do we seldom hear it performed? The truth is, for anyone raised on rock and roll or folk or blues or pop, where we prize heartfelt sincerity or cool irony, 19th century so-called “art songs,” especially as interpreted over the past few generations, even by great singers like Dietrich Fischer Dieskau, can seem unbearably stiff, formal, antique, artificial — the opposite of what the great popular song revolution of the 20th century brought us.

Two of Portland’s most passionate and unconventional classical musicians are out to change that. This Friday, November 4th, at Portland’s Community Music Center, pianist Maria Choban and opera singer Ken Beare are performing a radically different Winter’s Journey. It has a new and, like this podcast, R-rated translation by Choban; passionate — and not always conventionally “pretty” —  singing by Beare; and projected slides that illustrate or complement the complex emotional world of each powerful song. Although they don’t change a note of the score or add new text, it’s a fresh approach to a classic that at the same time may be closer to Schubert’s wild spirit than any version you’re likely to have heard.

In this podcast, Beare and Choban  share their thoughts on why Schubert was one cool dude, why the Winter’s Journey still matters, here and now, how their dramatic new interpretation restores the music’s original emotional power, and how they and other Portland alt classical performers are winning new, young audiences by knocking the stuffiness out of classical music.

You can find out a whole lot more about Winter’s Journey: Love’s Lost Journey into Frostbite  at their website, which has photos, info, and a series of podcasts in which Beare and Choban discuss each song, read her new interpretations of the poetry, and perform excerpts of Schubert’s beautiful songs.

Caution: Choban and Beare speak frankly and colorfully here, and if the odd expletive or profanity is offensive, then this isn’t the podcast for you.

OAW #3 Brett Campbell w Choban + Beare 2 by Oregon Arts Watch